Louisa Elizabeth Nichols was 32 years old when, on 24 July 1901, she took her husband’s revolver, walked outside her family’s home at Tarlo, near Goulburn, and shot herself in the head. Watching was her 11-year-old daughter, Lily, together with her other six children: Ruby (10), Ronald (9), Hilton (6), Elsie (4), Louisa (2) and baby Edith…. On hearing the shots, Charlie Ah Chong got out of bed, finding his wife dead and the children crying. When the neighbours arrived ten minutes later, there was nothing to be done.
Black and Asian women’s lives can only be interpreted in relation to the history of colonialism and slavery. There were significant differences in white stereotypes of black and Asian women that evolved in the colonial era but both contrasted adversely to ‘superior’ white women (Bush 2004). Asian women were stereotyped as docile and passive and oppressed by patriarchy, particularly Moslem women. The perceived seclusion of the veil, purdah and the forbidden sexuality of the harem, common themes in western orientalist discourse, strengthened the stereotype of passivity. This contrasts with the multiple identities attributed historically to women of African origin in the Americas during the era of slavery- ‘Sable Venus’ and sexual temptress; rebellious ‘she devil’ and as, the African American writer Zora Neale Hurston, observed, the ‘mule ah de world’ (Bush, 2000).
The ship had set out from Hong Kong, and nearly all of the 600 people aboard were Chinese. Finding 22 of the female passengers suspicious—because they were traveling without husbands or children and their replies to his questions about their domestic circumstances were “perfectly not satisfactory”—he commanded the ship’s master to pay a bond of $500 for each woman to disembark. When the master refused, Piotrowski ordered the women detained onboard and forcibly returned to Hong Kong on the ship’s next voyage. They were, he said, “lewd.”
The first wave of Asian women’s organizing formed out of the Asian American movement of the 1960s, which in turn was inspired by the civil rights movement and the anti-Viet Nam War movement. While many Asian American women are quick to note that women’s issues are the same as men’s issues — i.e., social justice, equity, human rights — history shows that Asian American men have not necessarily felt the same way. Leftist Asian women in Yellow Power and other Asian American groups often found themselves left out of the decision-making process and their ideas and concerns relegated to “women’s auxiliary” groups that were marginal to the larger projects at hand.